Thursday, June 19, 2008


Colors and Brands

Organized Retail’s Organized Challenge

By Harish Bijoor

Q: How important is colour in the game of branding? Can brands really own colours in the minds of consumers?

-Rohit Hemmady, Bangalore

A: Rohit, first of all we are talking of a very serious game. Branding, if a game at all, is a very, very serious one. One which can actually make and break fortunes. No wonder then that there is so much of corporate investment in the process of branding at large.

Having cleared that sensitive semantic hurdle, let’s come to the issue of colour and its importance.

Colour is essentially a basic differentiator. And brands by themselves are differentiators that occupy higher hierarchical status in the differentiation stakes. Colour is one of the first things that helps set brands apart. Therefore, if you are a Cola and a red has been usurped by a Coke and a Blue by a Pepsi, go for a green or a yellow. Never mind that they would look corny on a brand of Cola for the moment. People will get used to it. But for heaven’s sake, don’t make the mistake of being another red or a blue. Or worse still being a mix of both. You would die on the count of differentiation ability.

Colours can be owned by brands. In fact these colours for specific brands are owned in consumer minds. A prominent brand cannot play about too much in this colour-coded consumer’s mind most of the time.

Colour can be used strategically too. Take the case of organized fruit and vegetable retail in India today. The sector is essentially one dominated by the small vegetable seller with his cart and the small vegetable shop alike. Organized retail in this segment till now meant the Co-operative society, the Horticultural department with its stores and the like.

Today is however different. In comes a Reliance Retail with an all-India format of fruit and vegetable retail. The colour chosen is a dominant red and bright green. Red is for the fruit and green is for the vegetable, I presume.

Look around at everyone else in this space. Heritage Foods is the same. Subhiksha is the same. Most new-comers will follow the same colour logic. This is the strategic use of colour. Maybe accidental in this case. The moment you think fruit and vegetable retail, you will think these two colours.

For the brands that swim in this segment of the market, things pan out differently. For a Reliance juggernaut, their colour use is not unique and will therefore become part of the commodity space of organized fruit and vegetable retail. At least in colour terms.

For the smaller players in this space, this is good. Reliance will do all the advertising for the category with the colour and all its appeal. In-store branding experience eiwll add to this. The spillover effect of colour sharing will surely come along the way of a Subhiksha and a Heritage. This is surely the positive fall out for the smaller brand, where sharing the same colour as the market leader can only give it more and more advantage as a point of consumer choice, and indeed consumer confusion even.

Q: What do you see to be organized retail’s biggest challenge in India today?

-Yogendra Pathak, Bhubaneswar

A: Dear Yogi, the biggest challenge being faced by organized retail in the country is that of people.

While largely, most players have bought the best of systems, the best of bench-marked practices, the best of real estate and indeed the best of everything else, the biggest challenge is retaining the best of people to work for them. While all other items inanimate can be managed with ease of consistence and surety, people are the biggest variable in this business.

If you are in this business, every quarter is a challenge in terms of people. If the best of your people have stayed on with you in the last quarter, stay happy. Celebrate.

The people challenge is across all levels. The most critical levels are right at the top and right at the bottom. The CXO of every description and the front-ended store hand who interacts with consumers are the two most valuable resources that face the crunch.

Everyone in retail wants the high-on-performance and high-on- image CEO. And equally everyone in modern retail wants the true-blue performers who manage consumers at the front end in their stores. These are the true-blue store warriors who ensure repeat custom at the store of choice.

Managing people is therefore today a science that demands multiple variables to interact with one another and multiple disciplines to interact to make it a model of success.

There is research evidence that 76% of people in retail, ITES and the media and entertainment industry in India leave their jobs because of one big reason. Their immediate boss. Rectifying this immediate-boss situation is the one to seize in hand now and create a positive cascade that helps keep people back.

Sadly Indian retail is a long, long way away from being automated. Till such a time then, people will rule. People will therefore continue to pose the biggest challenge for most retailers.

Q: Why is advertising getting more and more stupid? The advertiser is scraping the bottom of the drum as he brings appeals that don’t exist into the market.

-Sushma Selvaraj, Chennai

A: Sushma, Shhhhhhhhh! That’s called creative excellence. The advertiser’s goal is simple. Get the eye-balls to happen in a clutter-dominated market. If your piece of advertising can stand out of the clutter, never mind how, so be it. Awareness scores are important. One way of getting it is the inane appeal and the stupid appeal even!

More importantly, do remember, a society gets the advertising it deserves. Touche!

Harish Bijoor is a business strategy specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.


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